Saturday, July 14, 2012

Someday this All Will Be Yours - Hendrik Hartog

Subtitle: A history of Inheritance and Old Age

I picked up this non-fiction read at the library because it talked about aging, one of my favorite topics.  The author reviewed law cases from the late 19th and early 20th century in New Jersey to analyze the evolution of caring for older adults.  His intro references a poem he says was popular at the time "Over the Hill to the Poor-House" the source of the "over the hill" phrase.  He identifies the "market revolution"  as being responsible for a move away from raising lots of children to insure care to bartering with property.  The "market revolution" was the explosion in opportunity in America that set children away from home to seek their fortune leaving their elder parent to fend for themselves.  Their parents responded by offering property and assets to keep them or other family members and even caretakers around.  He also identifies the fear of loneliness being touted as the inevitability of old age and the "transcendent destiny" to be realized in caring for one's parents.  He concludes his book by comparing today's social systems that support the elderly and questions whether it really suffices.

The book was well researched and thorough, in a dry lawyer tone.  While the jacket touts his compassion it didn't come through to me in the story.  His epilogue refers to caretakers as "trapped kin" who "may not want pay" and "may discover enormous satisfaction in doing the work well; still few are doing real work--following a calling or destiny--when caretaking." [my emphasis].  His tone here and other comments throughout hinted at a bitterness and resentment at having to care for his own parent or parents.  His closing comment that "the real mystery is why some younger people still stay home to provide care" reveals to me he learned nothing from his study.

Published: 2012  Read: July 2012   Genre:  Non-fiction

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